UNITED NATIONS — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday for what was likely to be the last time, denounced military threats against Tehran by “uncivilized Zionists” and attacked Western leaders as handmaidens of the devil.
But, for all the rhetoric, the Iranian leader’s speech was decidedly less provocative — and less notable — than his previous seven appearances at the U.N.
The Iranian leader’s U.N. visit comes at a time of heightened tension between Israel, which has warned that Tehran is close to becoming a nuclear power, and Iran, which insists that its nuclear program is peaceful. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to address the General Assembly on Thursday, has urged President Obama to take a more confrontational stance toward Iran and to clarify a set of “red lines” that would trigger a military response to Iran’s nuclear developments.
But in a speech that drew heavily on religion and history, Ahmadinejad devoted little attention to the nuclear clash, using his speech to advance Tehran’s case for a greater say in world affairs as the new leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, where it is serving a three-year term as chair.
“There is no doubt that the world is in need of a new world order and a fresh way of thinking,” said Ahmadinejad, whose second and final term expires next year. “The current abysmal situation in the world and the bitter incidents of history are due mainly to the wrong management of the world and the self-proclaimed centers of power who have entrusted themselves to the devil.”
Shortly before the speech, the United States said that it would boycott Ahmadinejad’s address because he had selected a Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur, to deliver it. Israeli diplomats, who do not work on Yom Kippur and who walked out of an earlier U.N. meeting on the rule of law to protest Iran’s presence, also did not attend.
Several European delegations, who were represented by low-ranking diplomats and who were prepared to coordinate a walkout if provoked, sat through the lengthy speech.
“Over the past couple of days, we’ve seen Mr. Ahmadinejad once again use his trip to the U.N. not to address the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people but to instead spout paranoid theories and repulsive slurs against Israel,” said Erin Pelton, the spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. “It’s particularly unfortunate that Mr. Ahmadinejad will have the platform of the UNGA on Yom Kippur, which is why the United States decided not to attend.”
In his address, Ahmadinejad returned to a familiar theme on the excesses of American power in the world but did not specifically name the United States, instead denouncing big-power domination of the U.N. Security Council, “unilateralism, application of double standards, and impositions of wars, instability and occupations to ensure economic interests.”
Ahmadinejad made passing reference to some of his more controversial statements — recalling his proposal to conduct a fact-finding mission to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — and criticized the United States for “killing and throwing the culprit into the sea without trial.”
But he ended with a reference to Scripture, saying “the Almighty God” will deliver the world’s people to a life of “peace and security.”